Wet weather affecting progress of new Colonial Elementary


Recent wet weather could possibly derail the timeline for the new Colonial Elementary School.
Photo by Aila Boyd

During the January meeting of the Botetourt County Economic Development Authority, Jim Whitten, capital projects manager for Botetourt County, explained that all of the recent wet weather could affect the progress made on the new Colonial Elementary School.

According to Whitten, F. Clayton Plecker & Sons Inc. was given 121 days to complete the grading on the site. Grading was commenced on November 7 of 2018. To date, the weather has only permitted the company to complete 13 days’ worth of work.

The entire build, start to finish, is estimated to take 16 months.

“This has been the worst season for weather,” Whitten said.

Whitten, who keeps a calendar documenting when grading is and isn’t occurring, said that there has only been one week since November 7 that it has not rained in a seven-day period.

As of F. Clayton Plecker & Sons’ last report to Whitten, only roughly 10 percent of the grading has been completed. In total, the piece of land that the school will eventually be built on has to be raised by 20 feet.

Photos by Aila Boyd

The main problem that continues to arise, Whitten said, is that it’s impossible to compress mud.

“If it has any moisture content at all to it, we can’t compress it,” Whitten said of the dirt that’s being compressed.

Another problem has been freezing. When the top layer of soil freezes, it prevents the moisture from rising to the surface.

“It looks dry and dusty, but when you drive across it and crunch through the ice, you’ve got mud,” Whitten said.

The process of compressing dirt requires several steps. Whitten said that on average, six inches of dirt is compressed at a time. Then, the area has to be tested in order to ensure that it’s properly compressed.

Whitten reiterated the fact that fault doesn’t lie with the company doing the grading.

“They’re excellent contractors,” Whitten said of F. Clayton Plecker & Sons. “If you watch them work, it’s like a ballet – it’s amazing.”

He explained that he surveys the worksite every morning and every evening to determine whether or not the dirt is dry enough to be compacted.

Whitten said that considering the worst cast scenario, which is that the pouring of concrete doesn’t start until April, he feels fairly confident that the school will be ready to welcome students at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. But even if that’s not the case, he said, considering that the current Colonial Elementary School is still operable, students could continue to go there until the build on the new school is complete.

“We don’t think it’s going to be a major catastrophe because they’re in a school right now,” Whitten said.

The school will be located at 142 Murray Drive in Troutville.

“If we can get some dry weeks, I think we can get caught up,” Whitten said.

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